When Ramesses announced their split in January this year, I was pretty gutted, but not especially surprised. Guitarist Tim Bagshaw had moved to New York, and was playing in Serpentine Path with the guys from Unearthly Trance (with whom Ramesses released a split in 2009), and there were rumours going around that drummer Mark Greening was back behind the kit with Electric Wizard. The split was inevitable.
Criminally underrated during their decayed decade together, Ramesses were one of my all-time favourite bands, as well as simply one of the best heavy British bands, and it's only fitting that their horrifying legacy be preserved. The label started by the band, Ritual Productions, have reissued the band's debut album Misanthropic Alchemy as a kind of epitaph, and after trying to get hold of a vinyl copy for ages now, I snapped one up as soon as they were available.
I never managed to snag a copy of the original vinyl release so I don't have much basis for comparison, but it can't have been as perfectly packaged as this repress. The intricate print on silver mirror board is glorious, though this being a double LP it struck me as odd they wouldn't go for a gatefold sleeve, but its still a thing of twisted beauty.
'Ramesses Part 1' opens the record at an uncharacteristically fast tempo, the clatter and clang of Mark Greening's poor abused drumkit driving the whole corroded cacophony along at deathly speed. Adam Richardson's serrated rasp of a voice spits only the necromantic call "Arise legions... Destroy Enemy..." before the summoning is complete and the tempo drops you into 'Ramesses Part 3'.
Slowly uncoiling riffs emerge from the suffocating murk, unfurling themselves insidiously from the speakers. Cries of "Holding out to die" are sung in a startlingly clear voice, contrasting with the usual vocal style employed that erupts forth like molten hate. Around two thirds of the way through the track it switches down a gear, taking on an elegiac, sombre tone. The lamenting wails sound like some damned maddening choir. The music burns out and smoulders in warm feedback before the needle scrapes its last. Damn it's great to finally hear this album on vinyl.
Side B opens with the dirge-like 'Lords Misrule', a draining, dragging track that picks up pace as it progresses. Ramesses lay bare their mission statement in this track, with a putrid growl of "doomed to death". When this album was released, very few bands were forging together the various metals found in Misanthropic Alchemy. With the recent resurgence in death-doom, and almost every subgenre seeming to merit the prefix 'blackened', maybe people have forgotten just how much Ramesses were digging the graves of Winter and Autopsy at a time when very few were. Of course now both of those bands have been resurrected, but even as recently as 2007, there weren't many ploughing the same corpse-bloated furrow as Ramesses.
I'm getting a little off topic, but I can't state enough just how vital this band were to me personally. They opened whole new (creaking tomb) doors along my musical path.
'Coat Of Arms' has an almost postpunk chiming guitar intro before it erupts into the familiar sludge, the distorted mix courtesy of Billy Anderson is so foul and thick you could almost choke on it.
When the vocals eventually appear halfway through the track, it's another case of contrasting the tortured moans of "souls so lost and old" with a more acidic delivery courtesy of "bludgeoned minds". The last minute of the track is a furious flurry of blackened blasts, a maelstrom of sounds to close out side B.
'Terrordactyl' is the precursor to the musically similar 'Terrasaw' from 2010's Take The Curse, opening with the same ramshackle drum fill, before the beast morphs through various incarnations before settling on an unsettling alternating mix of shuddering, churning horror and a sort of drugged funeral march.
Towards the end there's the perpetual threat that the whole thing will explode into blastbeats, before a demented guitar solo that sounds sped-up or backwards masked, somehow unnatural brings things to a head, and the song ends with the harshness of a slap, heard literally in the final sample.
The cacophonic rattle that opens 'Before The Jackals' introduces a plodding doomed procession, conducted by the wretched death rattle emitted by Adam Richardson's ruined larynx. It circles deeper and deeper until the hypnotic effect becomes overpowering, where thankfully it ends before you lose your mind. The plaintive fingerpicking that comprises 'Earth Must Die', the last track of the original album, seems like an ominous portent of horrors to come... but they never do, the track just endlessly racks up the tension.
As I thought when I first heard it, it's still a really odd way to end an album, it seems like a pointless build up to a release that never comes. It's still a great track, it just suffers from being misplaced within the running order.
The two live tracks that follow the end of the album, recordings of 'Lords Misrule' and 'Ramesses Part 3' remind me of just how alternately bludgeoning and hypnotic the band were in the live setting.
I managed to make it to one of their last ever shows before they ceased touring, supporting Eyehategod no less, and was totally blown away by how well they recreated the malevolence of their recorded work, and that effect is captured perfectly on these recordings.
Misanthropic Alchemy is the sound of Ramesses still hashing out ideas, taking the first steps down a darker path than they ever had in their years in Electric Wizard, a conjuring of sounds more atavistic, more primal; old doom from a dark age. Their development would eventually culminate in the refined blackened doom of Take The Curse a few years later, but these recordings mark the beginning of their descent into the darker recesses of doom.
You can pick up this limited double LP from Ritual Productions here:
Or opt for the CD version which also includes a bonus disc containing the EPs We Will Lead You To Glorious Times and The Tomb: